Critiquing “Hope Springs”: Find out what you won’t learn about couples’ counseling and sex therapy from the movie.

Critiquing “Hope Springs”: Find out what you won’t learn about couples’ counseling and sex therapy from the movie.

The following review has been written from the perspective of a sex therapist, Dr. Barbara Bartlik, MD ( and Gary Krane, PhD, co-founder of

ImageThe recently released movie, “Hope Springs,” depicts couples’ counseling and in a sensitive and realistic manner, providing viewers with a glimpse of what couples’ therapy actually is like. In addition, the film portrays sexuality in older people in a positive light, which is rare in our society. The film also underscores the importance of good communication and demonstrates how couples can grow in their relationship beyond that which they thought they were capable. We highly recommend the film for people in significant relationships, whether they are new or longstanding. Nonetheless, viewers should realize that the filmmaker’s creative process involved taking liberties with the subject matter, so the treatment depicted deviated from that which is standard practice in the following ways:

Sexual Fantasies

For example, most therapists would never ask a patient about specific sexual fantasies in front of their partner, like Dr. Feld did (played by Steve Carell). In real life, couples’ therapists are discreet. When they ask that question it’s with respect for patient privacy concerns. They will ask it when the partner is not present, or in a more subtle way, such as, “Is there something you want to do sexually with your partner, which you don’t do now?” The response to the fantasy question is important because often it can point therapy in the direction of the person’s true desires.

Fantasies are deeply ingrained and not easy to change. The fact is, to get aroused, the vast majority of couples in longstanding, satisfying sexual relationships conjure up sexual images that bear little resemblance to their partner or what they do when they are having sex with them. However, in some cases, revealing specifics about fantasies to a partner can hurt that partner’s feelings and do harm to the relationship.



When couples stop having sex, they often discontinue other forms of touching as well, usually because it could lead to discomfort about whether or not to attempt sexual intimacy. Holding one another for extended periods of time, as Dr. Feld suggested, may be a valuable initial exercise for a couple who has stopped touching. However, normally when such touching exercises are given, they are accompanied by a caveat to not have any intercourse (more on this below). The road back to sexual intimacy may require physical exercises designed to break down the barriers to touching.

Sensual Massage

The second exercise prescribed by Dr. Feld, to give a sensual massage, is a mainstay of couples-sex therapy. However, in the movie, Kay, played by Meryl Streep, and Arnold, played by Tommy Lee Jones, attempt the massage completely clothed. Usually, it is done naked or, if preferred, in underwear. Professional therapists instruct couples at first to touch only the non-sexual areas of the body (all but the breasts, genitals, and anal areas). Later these areas are included, with gradually increasing degrees of stimulation.

Homework Assignments


Do not read this section unless you have seen the movie!


In addition, Dr. Feld failed at the onset to specifically advise Kay and Arnold not to attempt sexual Imageintercourse early on in the course of the homework assignments. Ironically, most sex therapy treatment starts with this prohibition, to reduce the risk of failure. One night when Kay and Arnold get sexually aroused together and he attempts penetration, he loses his erection and they both feel dejected. Kay assumes incorrectly that this occurred because he looked at her face and found her unattractive, whereas it was more likely that his anxiety got in the way. In therapy, we like to proceed slowly and build upon a couples’ successes. We don’t expect them to go from not getting aroused together at all, to intercourse and orgasm all at once. We advise them to pleasure themselves in front of one another, to have orgasms in each others’ presence, to stimulate one another’s genitals, and then briefly to penetrate without experiencing orgasm.

We also teach men that it is normal for erections to come and go, and that it is not the end of the world or the end of the lovemaking session if they lose one. After a period of time in therapy, the couple progresses to intercourse and then they are more likely to succeed. Through therapy, they also learn that a lot of pleasure can be had without intercourse and their sex life will be richer and more varied for it. This is particularly important as people age and their bodies change. It’s unrealistic to expect performance in any physical endeavor to be on par with that of a 25 year old; instead people are encouraged to be mentally flexible and creative in the way they find sexual pleasure.

Cost of Treatments

ImageFinally, the cost of treatment: Kay found an intensive one week couples therapy treatment program 1500 miles from home that cost $4000. Most people would consider that pricey, if not prohibitive, but it’s important to know that there are tons of less expensive options. Many counseling programs are provided in different localities several times a year and offer a combination of lectures, group therapy, and couples sessions over the course of a few days for considerably less than $4000. In addition, a couple could enter couples sex therapy with a local therapist, weekly, or more or less frequently. The American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) provides lists of therapists in most locations. Costs start at about $100 a session, and may even be covered by health insurance.

The most reasonable and cost effective option for those unable to afford a professional therapist is an online form of couples counseling, such as CoupleWise. Each person who enrolls goes through a quick process clarifying their most important relationship needs, deciding how well these needs are being satisfied and then decides what to share with their partner and when, as well as how often to regularly check in with regard to their needs.

Based on this, the couple can then choose from different tools to help get whichever needs they agree upon to be better met. The advice they will receive will be similar to that which they would get from a live cognitive behavioral therapist.

And, if you’re looking for more movies to watch, we recommend two other films that depict sexuality in older individuals in a positive light: Something’s Gotta Give, and, another film starring Meryl Streep, It’s Complicated.




Barbara Bartlik, M.D. ( is a psychiatrist in New York City who practices couples-sex therapy and integrative psychiatry.


Gary Krane PhD is an educational psychologist, author of Simple Fun for Busy People and the co-founder of CoupleWise.

3 thoughts on “Critiquing “Hope Springs”: Find out what you won’t learn about couples’ counseling and sex therapy from the movie.

  1. The movie “Hope Springs” is great.I like it.There are many things couples can learn from it.Couples therapy can help but the success of marriage depends in the efforts made by the couple and not by the marriage counselor.

  2. Some husbands really need to be careful of other woman outside their marriage,this was a true life story that happened to me to my own notice my sister took my husband from me the husband whom i have love so much and promise me that no woman will take him from me but all of a sudden things turned apart if not for my friend hear in USA that told me i needed a spell caster that can cast a spell to separate them maybe by now he must have went for a divorce which could have made me commit suicide because i loved him so much likewise like him also but how things turn around was a thing that surprised me.
    I vowed that any thing it could cost me i must separate him and my elder sister i then collected the contact of this spell caster from my friend Mary she told me his name is spiritual Priest Ajigar and his email is i contacted him and narrated the whole story to him he consulted and found out that my sister visited a spell caster that casted a spell that made him love her i then ask him what to do he told me that this spell needed to be broken so that my husband can leave her alone and come back to me the spell was broken and within three days he began to hate her that he even beat her up before he said to her that it is over between him and her right now my husband is with me again and care for me like he have never done before i thank my friend Mary but i own all thanks to priest Ajigar for bringing back my husband and i their for advice that if you notice any strange behavior in your marriage or your boy friend or girlfriend is cheating you contact Priest Ajigar to know the root of it he will surely help you out and give an everlasting solution to it.

  3. I have found out this that most men are full of lost for women only few are faithful to their wives this was something i battled with for close to nine years i have been married to my husband he goes out with different kinds of girls he is never tired of it and the worst he sees nothing wrong with it it became so unbearable for me and now he was planning for a divorce after i had two kids for him this really broke my heart because i really loved him so much because i was a virgin before he married me and he is the first person i ever slept with.I ran to my cousin for advice she then told me that she knew of a man that can cast a spell that will remove the spirit of hatred in him towards me and before i know it he will begin to change for good and be faithful to me and stop going out with other girls i ask for the man’s contact she then told me it was with her friend whom Priest Ajigar helped to revive her marriage long ago we both went their and she gave us Priest Ajigar contact email i contacted him and he promised he will help me bring his senses back after the spell was casted his mood began to change first he stomped coming late at night and he deleted all the girls contact he had and on one faithful day i was cooking in the kitchen when i saw him knelt down in front of me begging to forgive him for being on unfaithful,he promised that he will never do such things again i forgive him and since 2 years now he have not go out with any girl again what a wonderful spell caster Priest Ajigar is and don’t you think you need his help also quickly just contact his just contact him and i bet you will testify between three to four days the way your marriage or your relationship will turn around for good.Priest Ajigar is really the best spell caster ever.

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